COLORFUL MUSHROOMS, POINTY ROCKS AND FLOWERING LILY PADS GALORE

On Saturday 7/22/17 Bernadette’s friend since Explorer’s Scouts in Roslyn, PA, Betsy, and I hiked the 7.3 mile northern half of the Appalachian Trail (AT)-PA Section #1 from Fox Gap, PA to the Delaware Water Gap (western side of the I-80 Bridge over the Delaware River). We added the southern most one mile section of NJ Section #6 as well for a combined 8.3 mile hike. After leaving my car at the Kittatinny Visitor’s center parking lot, I rode with Betsy to the Fox Gap trail head parking area off Rt. 191. We headed across the road, over the guardrail and headed northbound at about 7:12am on a sunny day with expectations of 80s to 90s temperature before noon.

After only six tenths of a mile we came to the short uphill side trail for the Kirkridge Shelter. Although there were some belongings near the shelter, there were no hikers nearby.

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I wrote a short note in the trail register and christened Betsy with her trail name which is Lady Explorer. The Explorer Post that Betsy and Bernadette belonged to had done many different hiking and back-packing trips including some part of the AT. So Betsy and Bernadette have been AT hikers 45 years before me.

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I noticed that thru hiker “Screech” had written a poem like entry the day before which went as follows:

“If Pennsylvania sang opera, it would be monotone.

If Pennsylvania were hard candy, its flavor would be all purpose white flour.

If Pennsylvania were a childrens’ (sic) book, there would be no illustrations.

If Pennsylvania were perfume, it would be bear spray.

If Pennsylvania were your bed sheets, they’d be hot, wet and sticky latex.

If Pennsylvania had a saving grace, it’s the amazing trail magic!”

Another thru hiker, this one named EVAC, commented “Amen to that” with a directional arrow for clarity.

We retraced our path back down the blue blazed side trail and turned left to continue north on the trail. In a minute we passed another side trail junction, this being the northern junction of the loop that goes by the same shelter. We had arrived at the shelter via the southern junction.

Our journey along the ridge line involved walking on many pointy rocks which were sticking up into the soles of our feet and crossing right of ways for powerlines and later, for pipelines. Their clearings provided some wonderfully scenic views. We crossed Totts Gap between the powerline and pipeline access.

As we hiked we kept seeing different and sometimes colorful mushrooms or fungus (or fungi?) growing alongside the trail. Here are some of the photos Lady Explorer or I captured.

Lady Explorer’s sharp eyes caught sight of an orange spotted newt whose spots had not appeared as yet. This is the same type newt I have seen multiple times along other sections of the AT.

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A little over two hours into the hike, we noticed this bear print in a muddy area. I put my foot next to it for scale but somehow my foot did not appear in this photo.

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Ten minutes later we came to the old Tower Site on Mount Minsi which is about 1461′ above sea level.

We then began a fairly constant descent (1200 feet to the I-80 bridge) past Lookout Rock and Council Rock which provided views down to the Delaware Water Gap. We could see a sandy area along the Delaware River where kayaks were being launched. Along the way we rock hopped over Eureka Creek which did not have much of a flow of water on this day.

We stood off to the side of the trail for a while to permit a youth group of about fifty teenagers and their guides to pass as they hiked upward toward Mt. Minsi.

As we continued the last part of our descent, we came upon Lake Lenape which featured different birds, croaking frogs and the most flowering lily pads I have ever seen.

After a short visit at the lake, we made the brief hike into Delaware Water Gap and we turned left at the intersection with Main Street (Rt. 611) in order to stop in and visit at the Church of the Mountain Hostel which is located just one and a half blocks from the trail. This church sponsored hostel provides bunk beds, a common room, bathroom and shower for thru hikers who can make a small donation for their overnight stay. I took some photos of the inside rooms and of the outside door which is located more toward the rear of the church. I met Dave who identified himself as the caretaker for the hostel. He saw my Wilderness Medicine Institute patch on my hat and mentioned that he had been a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) instructor at one time. Even though I was not staying overnight, I left a small donation to help with costs which support the thru hikers.

While there we had the good fortune to meet and chat briefly with “Screech” who was repairing his hiking shoes with shoe gloo and duct tape. I believe he was the author of the poem written into the Kirkridge Shelter register mentioned above. I guess he slept at the hostel last night. We also met Steely Dan who recently graduated from college and who wanted to thru hike the AT before starting in his career. I left my phone number with Steely in case he wanted some assistance in three or four days time with provisions, shower, laundry, etc when he got closer to Bear Mountain Bridge which is the lowest point of the AT at about 160′ above sea level. I offered to help as I would be back home after visiting with my relatives in the Philadelphia area.

Lady Explorer and I wished them well on their thru hike and after leaving the hostel, we walked the short way to the western end of the I-80 bridge and then the one mile walk across to the Kittatinny Visitor Center parking area. Along the way, with the assistance of other thru hikers, we took some photos of us and of the painted state line border sign which indicates that the AT southbound to Springer Mountain, GA is 1293.6 miles and the distance northbound to Mt. Katahdin, Maine is 895.6 miles.

We had a great hike and look forward to our next one in the rocky Commonwealth of Pennsylvania where a friend of Betsy is interested in joining, the more the merrier.

I have now hiked 171.6 miles of the AT [89.8 in NY(completed), 43.8 in CT, 30.7 in NJ and 7.3 in PA].

On Wednesday 7/26/17 I received a text from Steely and arranged to pick him up around 6pm along the blue bypass trail located just outside the Bear Mountain State Park Zoo. Bernadette and I enjoyed Steely’s company very much during an overnight visit at our house. After a big dinner, he washed his clothes, showered, drank a beer, watched TV and slept in air conditioning. The next day Steely resupplied his food provisions at Shop Rite Supermarket and I dropped him back off to continue his northbound thru hike. He had covered 1403 miles since starting out at Springer Mountain on May 14th after finishing his final exams. I know you will make it. Good luck Steely and call if you need anything else.

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GREAT FALLS, PROSPECT MOUNTAIN & BEAUTIFUL VIEWS

On Sunday 7/9/17 my son, Mike, and I went back to finish off Appalachian Trail(AT)-Connecticut Section #2- where we had left off during our Memorial Day weekend hike with my other son, Joel, in May. We ended up doing a small part of Section #1 as well which further reduced the amount of hiking miles needed to complete my second state of the AT. Weather was in low 60s and there was mostly blue sky with a few white, puffy clouds.

After parking Mike’s car at a nearby parking lot, we headed northbound from the Iron Bridge (called the Amesville Bridge according to “AWOL” Miller’s AT Guide) over the Housatonic River in Falls Village, CT. Wet shrubs, some with small thorns, encroached upon the width of the trail. My pants soaked up the moisture while my trekking pole helped clear a path. We could hear the loud rush of water to our right but due to the thick foliage we could not see the source of the noise. However, after only about thirteen minutes of walking, a small scenic overlook opened to permit hikers to climb onto the rocks which make up the Great Falls.

 

 

After leaving the Falls, two northbound thru hikers passed us as we began the nearly 1,000 foot ascent of Prospect Mountain, elevation 1475′ above sea level, which we reached just 2.3 miles into our hike. Along the way we saw a bunch of fallen trees and trail maintainers had cut this one to clear the trail. A little AT artistry was added instead of just cutting and rolling the cut section off the trail.

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We started to descend a short way from Prospect and saw to our left the sign for the Limestone Spring Shelter. It noted that the shelter was a half mile down the side trail. From prior research I found that the actual distance to the shelter was not that far but there was nothing unique about this shelter and I wanted to keep hiking to beat the summer heat as much as we could.

A little more than an hour and a half into the hike we came to Rand’s View which included this scenic view of lush fields of green grass with rolling hills in the background.

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After covering about 3.5 miles in two hours, which I figured would be the hardest part of this hike due to the elevation gain, we took a sit down break at a scenic overlook called Billy’s View, which according to the AT Conservancy guidebook for MA/CT, was named after a member of the family which use to own this property.

 

 

The trees blocked most of the view but I am sure in the late Fall or early Spring, the view of the nearby Salmon Kill Valley is wonderful.

Mike and I observed four or five different stacked stone walls in areas which had dubious usefulness. The rocks seemed to be stacked in areas of very limited access.

We began a fairly steep descent down switch-backed trails where some of the hiking involved careful foot placement to avoid any slip and fall. I photographed this log ladder with supportive hand rail which was installed along this stretch of the trail. This is what the ladder looked like after we had already climbed down it. It was very solidly assembled.

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While climbing down along Wetauwanchu Mountain, we started to hear the sounds of cars along CT Rt. 44. The trail parallels Rt. 44 in a flat, grassy field before emerging onto the road. Hikers cross the road, walk along the far side of Rt. 44 until the intersection with Cobble Road. This is the northern end of Section #2. As soon as we turned right onto Cobble Road, Mike saw this red colored flower and I took this photo.

 

 

Does anyone know what type of flower this is? Is it Monarda or Bee balm?

The AT continues along Cobble Road where we passed a sign for a fairly new looking Senior Residence development. Mike noted that it was located directly across the street from the St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery. Friends of any deceased residents would not have far to go for the graveside memorial service.

We continued northbound and noticed a well placed AT right turn sign which directed hikers to turn off Cobble Road into a field marked with wooden posts bearing white blazes. After crossing the field, we were back into the woods where the trail was shaded and cushioned with a layer of pine needles. We completed this short .4 mile stretch of Section #1 which got us back to the Undermountain Road (Rt. 41) hiker parking area. We got into my car, drove back to Mike’s car by the Iron Bridge and then plotted a course to the Oakhurst Diner in Millerton, NY which is located off Rt. 44 just across from the Connecticut/New York state line.

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I had a great tasting cheeseburger with mashed potatoes instead of fries and Mike had a chicken caesar salad. It was amazing the amount of people walking around at the different shops located in Millerton, NY which is a small place in the Town of Northeast in the upper corner of Dutchess County.

Thanks to Mike, who was his usual excellent hiking companion and shuttle driver, today’s hike finished the remaining 6.7 miles of Section #2 and .4 miles of Section #1 for a total of 7.1 miles in a little over three and a half hours. I have now hiked 163.3 miles of the AT [89.8 in New York(completed), 43.8 miles in Connecticut and 29.7 miles in New Jersey]. I am almost done hiking any parts of the AT within a one and a half hour drive of my house. I have a few more hikes to plan to complete both CT and NJ. Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, are on deck.

Rich Ballezza (aka Condor 3)

FOGGY MONUMENT BUT MONUMENTAL FATHER’S DAY HIKE

On Sunday, June 18, 2017 I was lucky to have my son Mike to accompany me on a Father’s Day Appalachian Trail (AT) hike. The plan was to do New Jersey Section #3 which is a 9.8 mile section between High Point State Park and the Rt. 284 road crossing. We left my car at the small parking area off Rt. 284 and then Mike gave me a ride to the designated AT parking area off Rt. 23 just prior to the High Point State Park visitors center. After parking Mike’s car we followed a blue blazed side trail which intersects with the New Jersey State’s red colored Iris Trail which then joins with the AT trail as hikers approach the Rt. 23 road crossing. A light rain was falling and there was a lot of fog which blocked our chance to enjoy the three state view (New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York) which is possible from this vantage point on clear weather days. High Point, at approximately 1700 feet above sea level, is the highest point in New Jersey.

As we crossed Rt. 23, we were guided by these signs on our northbound journey.

 

The first mile of this trail had a two hundred foot climb on very slick boulders and rocks which made our foot plants very deliberate so we did not turn an ankle so early in our journey. We were enshrouded in fog but eventually reached this wooden observation tower.

 

I walked up to see the view but it was mostly more fog. There was a tiny opening in the visibility which permitted a small view of Lake Marcia which is next to the paved auto road leading to the High Point Monument which is a 220 feet tall obelisk and is a replica of the Washington Monument. This war memorial was built in 1930. The fog was so thick we could not see even one foot of the monument.

For those readers who want to know what the monument looks like, here is a photo of it from the official High Point State Park brochure.

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Two tenths of a mile past the observation tower there is a side trail leading to the monument. We stayed to the right and kept heading on the AT. In a half a mile, we came to the side trail for the High Point Shelter. It had taken us one hour and thirteen minutes to travel the 1.7 miles to the shelter. Not exactly a blistering pace.

 

The shelter and area surrounding it were very neat. This shelter had a very long overhang past the edge of the sleeping platform which probably would keep sleeping hikers dry even during a rain storm. Mike noted the good masonry stone work done by the volunteers who constructed the shelter. I signed the register and cautioned any southbound hikers to watch out for the slick rocks.

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There was a notice advising hikers that per Jim Murray, the Murray Shelter aka The Secret Shelter would be closed on 6/1/17. I don’t know if the note meant that it would be closed only on that day or for good.

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As David “AWOL” Miller’s guide notes, this private cabin has been open for the use of long distance hikers for nearly 20 years. It is equipped with a tenting area, well water, shower and a privy. A little later, Mike and I noticed the entrance to this private site just a little west of the trail. I did not go investigate it but, in hindsight, I wish I had just to know if this was closed for good or not.

After a very short break at the shelter, we headed back to the trail. As we were turning right to continue north, we noticed a thru hiker who appeared to be packing up after sleeping the night in his tent. I called over to him to apologize if I had been talking too loudly but he said it was okay.

Three miles into our hike we came to our first road crossing, Greenville Road (Rt. 519). Mike noticed these little yellow colored markers stuck in the middle of the road.

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I had never seen these before. My only guess is that these right angled markers were placed to help guide the future line painting crews on this recently repaved road and to provide some safety for drivers to see the approximate middle of the road.

We continued a fairly steep descent and crossed a series of streams, some of which had very little water. Our feet were grateful for the break from sharp edged rocks as we crossed a stile and walked along edges of hay fields.

We reached the five mile mark in a little over two and a three quarter hours when we reached Ferguson Road. When I approached this stile I noticed that in addition to the right handed turn blaze pattern, someone had taken the time to affix a small white painted arrow as well to help guide the hikers. You can see another directional arrow across the street as well.

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We continued crossing more roads with some small little hills of about two hundred feet interspersed between the roads. We crossed a couple of footbridges similar to the one pictured below.

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After passing to the right of a small pond, we passed the gravel driveway leading to the Murray “Secret” Shelter. We continued our descent and on one switchback Mike found this leaf that was all rolled up. It was unusual. It looked like a bug or worm at first.

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We crossed Goldsmith Lane which was a gravel road and then Unionville Road before climbing a short two hundred foot hill. As soon as we hit the top of the hill we started the final descent toward Lott Road. As we were crossing Lott Road, we noticed the same northbound thru hiker we had seen near High Point Shelter. I forgot to say that he had passed us a while back. Anyway, he was sitting on a stone wall and taking a break. Since we only had a little over a mile left, and the stone wall was in a shaded spot, I wanted to chat with the hiker. His trail name is “Wave” and he intends to make it to Katahdin. He had begun hiking from Springer Mountain, Georgia in April.  It turns out that he is from Cary, North Carolina and I mentioned that I had relatives living there. I gave Wave my cell number in case he needed some help during the next part of his hike in NJ, NY or CT. He appeared to be hiking alone so this would give him a life line should he need help. I explained that I had already hiked the rest of NJ, all of NY and most of the CT sections he would be hiking soon so I was willing to help him should he need some assistance. I asked him to text me to let me know when he finishes at Katahdin. I gave him a Cliff Bar-White Macadamia Nut- before Mike and I headed north to complete our day’s section hike. The last mile was uneventful as we descended a little further to the Rt. 284 road crossing. Mike took my picture under a nearby sign. I somehow got a blood stain on the front of my shirt. I surmise a branch scratched me through my shirt.

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I have now hiked 156.2 miles of the AT [89.8 in New York (completed), 36.7 in Connecticut and 29.7 in New Jersey]. More section hikes to plan!

 

 

MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND HIKING ON THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL IN CONNECTICUT

Thursday, May 25th-Picked up our son, Joel, at the airport and, in keeping with recent tradition, as soon as he gets home, we do a home project before starting any fun activities. Joel helped clean out the fish pond and did a marvelous job. We re-filled the pond in anticipation of Bernadette picking up some new goldfish as a blue heron took care of all our fish stock last year.

Joel and I then purchased some equipment, clothing and food supplies before doing our final gear check for our backpacking four day hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  My pack with all the gear weighed 22.8 pounds and Joel’s weighed 25.2 pounds. He agreed to carry the MSR cooking equipment. Our other son, Mike, had to work on Friday and Saturday so he was scheduled to join us very early on Sunday morning for the last two days of the hiking.

The plan was to start hiking northbound on the AT where we left off at the Hoyt Road crossing in New York State and hopefully do about four of the five AT sections that comprise the AT sections in Connecticut. These sections in order would be Section Five, Four, Three and Two.

DAY ONE- FRIDAY MAY 26, 2017

Joel and I met my friend and retired FBI Special Agent Jim along the way so he could follow us to drop our car at the Pine Knob Loop Trail parking area off Rt. 7 in Sharon, Connecticut and then to drive us back to the Hoyt Road crossing to begin our hiking adventure. It was raining lightly but the weather report said the rain was supposed to end soon. Thanks very much Jim. Jim took our photo before our first step.

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As soon as we start hiking northbound on the 11.5 mile long CT Section #5 we see the sign indicating you are entering Connecticut. The sign can be seen from the Hoyt Road crossing in New York State.

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Very shortly, we pass another trailhead parking area, this one off of Rt. 55 and there are signs to tell hikers which direction to travel. Some of the hiking paths were edged with landscape ties and filled with some stones. I presume this was to protect the soggy areas of the trail.

After crossing Rt.55 we climbed 500 feet to the top of Ten Mile Hill which was about two miles into our hike. The rain was starting to let up and the clouds were lifting. Notice the stylish way of tucking my pants into my socks. Tick preventive measures in play.

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On our descent we passed a trio of southbound hikers from Kentucky. We chatted briefly and then we continued our descent to the Ten Mile River Shelter where we met Chickadee(trail name) who hailed from Bangor, Maine.

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Chickadee had spent the night at the shelter as had the Kentucky trio who we had just passed. Chickadee was also hiking northbound. He was doing a longer multiple section hike until he had to work at a summer camp.

I used the nearby open air privy before signing the trail register with my trail name Condor 3. We said we would see Chickadee up the trail.

After leaving the shelter, we crossed the Ned Anderson Memorial Bridge, which is located at the confluence of the Ten Mile River and the Housatonic River. The bridge, erected in 1983, was in memory of Mr. Anderson’s work as a naturalist and trail maintainer between 1929-1948.

The next couple of miles were fairly level and we passed the western side of the Bulls Bridge which is one of two covered bridges in Connecticut which still permit vehicular traffic. The other one is located in West Cornwall, just a short drive away.

Joel took a selfie in front of a blaze which had been adorned with a red heart.

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We encountered a female hiker from Germany who was taking a break while hiking northbound. Her trail name was Trail Snail. She said she hikes faster in morning and then runs out of energy in the afternoon. She had started at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and was going to keep hiking as long as she could until she had to return to Germany. She intended upon returning another time to complete the other parts of the AT.

Trail Snail came by us while I was photographing this orange colored spotted newt. We kind of leap-frogged past each other a couple of times during this day. I took the photo of the newt with the black colored end of my trekking pole next to the newt for scale purposes. Although very tiny, this newt appears to be the same kind of newt I have seen on different AT sections in New York State.

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After crossing Schaghticoke Road, the trail begins about a 1,000 foot climb up to the top of Schaghticoke Mountain. Hikers actually leave Connecticut and reenter New York State for a brief period. There is no sign to indicate we are leaving Connecticut but there is a sign to informing us we have reentered Connecticut. So when I had said previously that I had hiked all the parts of the AT in New York State, I was technically wrong because I had not done this little part until this trip.

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The AT then crossed through the Schaghticoke Indian Reservation. According to some reference  information, this is the only location where the AT crosses Indian Reservation land.

We kept heading north and enjoyed the views from the trail which had some ups and downs but we never went below 1,000 above sea level.

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We crossed various brooks, which, thanks to the recent rainfall of the past couple of weeks, were surging with water. As I was trying to ford one of these streams, I slipped off a rock and sunk my left boot, sock and lower leg in the chilly water. My right boot got wet as well. I later took off my boots before crossing another stream. After walking through the next stream wearing my socks, I sat on a nearby rock, removed my wet socks and put my boots onto my bare feet as we only had a short way to go to the Mount Algo Shelter which was our destination for the day. This is located just .3 miles before the end of Section 5 which ends at the CT Rt. 341 road crossing. Some hikers had already arrived and were claiming spots inside the shelter. Here is a photo of the shelter.

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This was to be my first time sleeping on the AT. I strung my ENO two person hammock on two trees in a tent site immediately next to the shelter which had a six person capacity. Joel intended on sleeping inside the shelter. Trail Snail had already arrived at the shelter. So had another hiker from Germany. He did not know Trail Snail.

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After filtering some water, Joel heated up the water for our dehydrated meals. I had Beef Stroganoff which was not too bad. I later cleaned our few utensils and bowls and then filtered some more water to take on our next days hike. Joel hung our food bag on a tree limb a little ways away from the shelter.

The shelter/tent site got very quiet by about 8pm as all the hikers were tired. Sleep came quickly and I had a brief startle when a late arriving hiker tripped over one of my guy wires for the rain fly which protected me from any rain. The hiker and at least one other companion got situated with their tent and hammock and then it was very quiet. No bear activity.

We had hiked 11.2 miles with 34,017 steps (according to Joel’s FIT tracker).

I almost forgot one other thing. I picked a trail name for Joel. He is forevermore “Luna Chaser”. The derivation of this name is that his dog is named Luna and when they hike/run trails together, Joel seems to always be chasing Luna. I thought it fit. Now I have to come up with something for Mike.

DAY TWO- SATURDAY, MAY 27, 2017

I did not want to get out of my hammock too early so as not to make much noise but after hearing other hikers stirring, I arose and took down my hammock at 6:15 am. Joel started heating the water for our breakfast and I had a cup of Tea along with my first and very last Biscuits and Gravy dehydrated meal. Yuck! One of the hikers who started sleeping inside the shelter moved during the night and slept on top of the nearby picnic table. I am not really sure why.

Today’s hike plan was to do the last .3 miles of Section Five, all of the 11.1 miles of Section Four and then the first 1.3 miles of Section Three before we would turn right at the southern junction of the AT and the Pine Knob Loop side trail so we could hike about a mile down to the parking area where we had left my Kia Soul yesterday morning. We were doing this as we were going to use a tent site at the Housatonic Meadows State Campground as our base of operations for the next three days/two nights.

We hiked the steep descent down to the road crossing for Rt.341, passed a man and some family members who were heading up the hill and then crossed the road. We climbed a stile over a fence and began Section Four with about a 400 meter climb and did a series of small ups and downs staying a little under or a little over 1,000 feet above sea level for about four and a half miles. We covered Fuller Mountain, Skiff Mountain Road, Caleb’s Peak and St. Johns Ledges before starting a very steep rock scramble descent toward the River Road crossing. Our hiking pace slowed dramatically on this descent as a misstep would have very painful consequences. Joel was a big help in scouting the safest route down.

The good news is the next 4.8 miles were almost as flat as Texas. We passed the Stewart Hollow Brook Shelter and the Stony Brook Group Campsite. This part of the trail basically paralleled the bank of the Housatonic River. We had a lot of stream crossings, some done by rock hopping and others by walking on top of two/three trees where a sliver of wood was taken off the top edges to make a flat section for the bridge. Traction grooves were etched into the wood with a chainsaw. Joel did one of his world famous “jumping” photos.

We then began another 600 foot plus climb past the Silver Hill Campsite to the top of Silver Hill. Not wasting any time we rolled on past the top and started the steep descent back down the mountain as we approached the road crossing at CT Rt. 4 which is the northern end of Section 4.

Our original plan was to keep going another 2.5 miles to get to the trailhead where my car was parked. We needed to get to the car to drive to and check in at the campground. We discussed our options and made the executive decision to end our hike this day at 11.4 miles. We came out of the woods and started walking east on CT Rt. 4 and tried hitchhiking. This is something I had not done since around 1970 when I hitched to western Pennsylvania with a college friend. A few cars zoomed past us but a trail angel driving a club cab pickup truck pulled over. Joel helped get the packs into the back of the truck and we sat inside the cab. The driver said he figured we walked enough today and could use a lift. Boy was he right. We thanked him very much and he took us the mile trip to our car and dropped us off.

We drove my Kia to the Housatonic Meadows Campground and checked in. The Park Office ladies were very nice, gave us a map and sent us to Tent site #30.  I let them know that my son Mike would be arriving in his car about 6am on Sunday morning. They gave me a parking pass for his car too. We headed right out of the campground to a general store we had seen while in the trail angel’s truck. Joel convinced me that an ice cold chocolate milk would taste great to hold us off until dinner. It was superb. We returned to our campsite. Joel offered to set up our tent while I took a shower at the campground. They had hot water but the valve was on a timer so you had to keep pushing a button to get the shower water to start again. I then attempted to contact our recently made friends, Jack and Nancy Rafferty, who live in South Kent, for dinner. After Joel took his shower, we started heading south toward Kent, CT hoping we would get a cell service signal. Our calls kept getting dropped.

Finally we had a complete cell conversation and the plan was to have a cocktail at Jack and Nancy’s house before going to the nearby Bulls Bridge Inn for dinner. That was a wonderful plan. Jack and Nancy shared some stories about their children and grandchildren, some of whom had just graduated college. We had a nice chat followed by a very tasty dinner. We said our good byes and returned to the campground. We checked in with Mike by phone and planned to see him around 6-6:15am the next morning. Sleep came real quickly. Again.

We hiked another 11.4 miles with 37,958 steps (aggregate total for this trip so far is 22.6 miles/71,975 steps).

DAY THREE- SUNDAY, MAY 28, 2017

As Joel had done most of the heating of the water for meals, I got up early to set up the MSR stove. The only problem was that Joel’s butane lighter, which he had used for ten years, had finally run out of fluid. My self sparking one was left at home since Joel was bringing his kit. I won’t make that mistake again. As I explained this to Joel while he was still inside the tent, Mike pulled up to our tent site. Perfect timing. Mike lent us a lighter and we had breakfast. I had tea and some beef flavored Ramon noodles. We discussed some logistics for parking of vehicles at trail-heads and the topography of Section #3 which is a 11.5 mile section running in the northbound direction from CT Rt. 4 road crossing to the intersection of CT Rt. 112 and CT Rt. 7. This section featured about eight different small peaks to traverse. Almost all of them were between 1,000 and 1,390 feet in elevation.

As I was packing my backpack, Joel said we should leave most of our gear in the car or at the campsite to lighten our load. He suggested we just bring fluids and some snacks. That sounded like a good plan. Then Joel started putting his stuff in my backpack. He said we might as well only take one backpack and, if it was okay with me, Joel would carry my pack today. I could just use my trekking pole and could get a drink or snack out of my pack when we took a break. That sounded great. I had two sherpas working for me. Joel carried the provisions in one backpack and Mike carried a medical kit and other unknown exigent necessities in his backpack. Joel had to cinch up my waist belt so the pack fit securely on him.We started at CT Rt. 4, the same place we left off the prior day, and, after just a few tenths of a mile, we came to a stream crossing that was deep and rapid enough with minimally good rocks to hop across. I agreed with Mike and Joel that I should use both trekking poles, take off my socks and boots, and walk barefoot through the stream. It was too early in the day to risk getting soggy socks and boots. I managed to get across safely, dried my feet as best I could with some tissues from my pocket, put on my socks and boots and we kept on trucking. Joel was hiking in hiking flip flops so his feet could get wet. Mike just used his good balance to get through the stream. After we topped a couple of peaks, we then passed the Pine Knob Loop Trail southern junction at 9:08am. It is marked by the sign below.

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I was glad we opted to shorten our hike yesterday. It would have been a lot of work to do late in the afternoon. The hitchhike was the ticket. A half hour later we passed the northern junction of the Pine Knob Loop Trail which overlaps with the AT for this short part. The Pine Knob Loop Trail then turns right and leaves the AT. The side trail goes back down the mountain and meets the southern section at the same trail-head parking lot along Rt. 7.

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Mike and Joel took turns being the lead scout while the other was the caboose behind me. They are great hiking companions. I always felt they kept a watchful eye on their dad.

No better proof of this was when Joel at 11:07am, in the scout role, heard the sound of the rattlesnake under a bush just to the right of the trail. We all halted until we could see exactly where the snake was coiled up with his rattle rattling. See photo below.

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I looked around the area to make sure there were no other snakes or problems and we then continued northbound carefully staying away from the snake. The snake was probably getting tired of warning people as a group of four trail runners had just run past us. I am not an expert in snake identification but I think it could be an Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake from the color and markings. It is either that or a dark colored Timber rattlesnake.

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Around noon we stopped in at the Pine Swamp Brook Shelter where one female hiker was just resting and another male hiker from Germany was also taking a break. I signed the trail register and noticed that the trail entry above mine was dated May 27th. “Captain Underpants” stopped in for lunch and had another 11 miles to go before his/her hiking day ended. I wonder how he/she got that trail name. Note Joel’s trail name of Luna Chaser was written into the register for the first time.

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The hiking on this section continued the pattern of climbing additional hills such as Mount Easter, all between 1200-1400 feet above sea level for another five miles before the trail started a fairly steep descent past a sign for Belter’s Campsite. One of the hikers we briefly met at the Pine Swamp Brook Shelter was planning on staying the night at Belter’s Campsite.

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As we continued to descend we passed a location called Belter’s Bump before we finally emerged out of the woods onto Rt. 7 just south of the trailhead parking area at the intersection with Rt. 112.

We had hiked another 11.5 miles with another 38,538 steps (Aggregate total for this trip was now 34.1 miles/110,513 steps).

Mike and Joel gave me a ride back to my car and they went off to find a market for some food/snacks. I went back to the campsite to get a shower and get some things organized for tomorrow’s hike. There was no hot water in the campground shower which made it an exhilarating experience.

Mike and Joel returned and we heated up some water for some dehydrated food. Joel made a fire to help dry off Mike’s boots and to keep bugs at bay. Mike set up his cot with a rain tarp over it. He had even purchased bug netting at a fabrics store in case he needed to make a bug net. Mike is always so resourceful. We played a couple of games of the card game Pounce thanks to Mike who brought a few decks of cards with him. It was great talking and playing cards in a campground setting.

I expressed my concerns to Mike and Joel about the length of Section #2 which was a 9.9 mile stretch originally planned for tomorrow. I was worried that there was a chance of rain and I was concerned about the possible problems of Memorial Day traffic since I had to get Joel back to JFK for his return flight to Seattle in the late afternoon. Once again, Mike and Joel helped reach a consensus and we decided to do a shorter part of Section #2, about 2.6 miles, so we could be assured we would be done in the early morning as that part of the trail was very flat. We could use the extra time together to have a late breakfast or early lunch before saying our goodbyes. Joel fell asleep before 7:30pm and did not wake up until about 5:30am on Monday.

DAY FOUR- MONDAY, MAY 29, 2017 (Memorial Day)

We arose early to pack up our tent site. Mike went out and picked up coffee and brought back a hot tea for me. Joel wanted to have the coffee variety he had packed. I heated up the water while I finished packing.

Our plan was to drop my car off at the same trailhead parking area from yesterday at Rt. 112/Rt. 7 and then we would park Mike’s car further north up the AT. We would then hike southbound toward my car.

We got started about 7:45am at the bridge over the Housatonic River near the intersection of Falls Mountain Road and Housatonic River Road in Falls Village, CT. A light rain began to fall. Mike’s good navigational sense kept me pointed in the right direction.

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After just a short hike, we passed this informational sign:

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The rain increased only slightly as we hiked and crossed Water Street and Warren Turnpike. We were mostly under the cover of leaves and the trail was almost entirely flat so the hiking was easy. Joel warned me once in jest that we had a “nine foot high hill coming up”. We soon came down Warren Turnpike and on our right was the Roland H. Chinatti – John L. Mahoney Region One Tennis Courts park where there was a portable toilet and a water well pump which can be used by AT hikers. I stopped to take a few photos.

We left the Tennis park, walked past the Housatonic Valley Regional High School and turned right to return to the intersection of Rt. 112 and Rt. 7. We looped the farmer’s field where recently planted corn appeared to just be emerging through the soil.

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We passed Chickadee who was hiking northbound. We gave him a power bar and he had pulled a clear plastic bag over his pack due to the increasing rainfall. He did not use a high tech, purchased elastic cover from an outfitter store. He improvised and used a clear plastic trash bag. He said it even had a hole for his head. We wished him well and we returned to our car.

We hiked another 2.6 miles with about 12,023 steps (Overall total for this trip is 36.7 miles/122,536 steps).

We got in my car and I drove back to Mike’s car before we heading south to Kent, CT where we had a tasty breakfast at The Villager Restaurant. Mike had the sweet potato pancakes; Joel had the rice and beans burritos; and I had the 1-2-3 Special which was one slice of french toast, two pancakes and three eggs (scrambled). I got a couple of sausage links on the side. Kent was having its Memorial Day Parade while we were eating. Mike and Joel treated me to breakfast as I had paid for the tent site. Bernadette and I are so lucky to have such amazing children.

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As I drove Joel to JFK Airport, Joel  researched on guthookhikes.com the information that the overall elevation gain/loss along the entire Appalachian Trail is about 917,760 feet along the 2,185 mile length of the AT. That equals to an average of about 420 feet of change per mile. We did a few of those ups and downs during the past four days.

I have now hiked 146.4 miles of the AT (89.8 in NY, 19.9 in NJ and 36.7 in CT). Thanks to Michael and Joel and to my friends who have either hiked with me or helped get me to trail-heads.

Thanks to Bernadette for supporting my interest in the AT.

I will get the last part of CT done on another day.

RAB

WRIGLEY FIELD AND WINDY CITY TOURS

On Saturday April 29th I flew to the windy city to visit the sights in Chicago and, in particular, to see a couple of baseball games at Wrigley Field. I had to schedule this trip on short notice when I learned that the Phillies would be playing at Wrigley only once this season so I got tickets for two night games. Bernadette  arranged the airline and hotel reservations.

Day One

I flew from Stewart International to Chicago and purchased a 7 day pass for unlimited train and bus travel on the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority-not the rock band). It was reasonably priced and it worked perfectly. I took the train from O’Hare International Airport to Logan Square in order to transfer to a bus for the ride to the Days Inn on West Diversey. Because my flight arrived late on Saturday night, it was about 11pm when I was checking in. As I walked down the hall toward my room there was quite a bit of loud partying going on in various rooms. I was pretty tired so I just set my stuff on a shelf unit and tried to sleep. The partying continued so I watched some television for a while in hopes the partying would quietly end. It did when I heard a group go down the hallway and one of the revelers saying very loudly “Bring the bottle”. But at least they were leaving. I opened up a few drawers in the night table and noticed that instead of a bible, there were two sets of ear plugs. I forgot to pack one of those when I left the hotel to return home.

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Day Two

The hotel was renovating its main lobby and they did not have a restaurant in this Days Inn. So I walked a short way to a restaurant called YOLK where I had a delicious breakfast of eggs, potatoes and pancakes. I was very dehydrated and drank a huge amount of water. The famous Chicago weather was making itself known big time. It was rainy, windy and increasingly getting much colder as the day progressed. The steady wind of 15 mph made the wind chill feel like 36 degrees F.

After breakfast, I took the #22 Bus up North Clark Street to the intersection with Addison Street where Wrigley Field is located. I had made a reservation for the 10 am tour of Wrigley Field.

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I was a little early so I walked around the surrounding streets. I took photos of the statues of Hall of Fame Cubs Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo. I missed the statue of broadcaster Harry Caray as I turned around before getting to his statue.

After meeting up with about thirty five other tour goers, we were given a wonderfully informative narration by Katie, our tour guide.

Wrigley Field is described as the “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley. I even saw that engraved in a medallion embedded into a table at a local Dunkin’ Donuts and the same sentiment is painted on top of the visitors dugout on the first base side.

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The grounds crew was working on moving the infield tarp while we were on the tour. We got to walk to the outfield bleacher sections and I could see the rooftop bleacher sections erected on about eight different building which are across the street from left field and right field. That’s right. People sit on bleachers which were erected onto the rooftops of nearby buildings. The companies who sell these rooftop tickets now must pay 17% of their revenue to the Cubs Organization.

Katie explained that a Cincinnati Reds pitcher who was not scheduled to pitch one day decided to leave Wrigley Field, in uniform, and went up to sit with fans in one of the rooftop bleacher sections. A camera caught his seating section and Major League Baseball fined the pitcher $1,000 for the stunt. The player said it was the best $1,000 he ever spent.

On our way around the outfield, Katie pointed to where the Cubs hang a large flag with a “W” when the Cubs win or an “L” when they lose a game. This was done so that persons riding the nearby red line train could see how the Cubs fared. This was before Espn and other news organizations who can keep everyone informed on their smart phones.

I always liked seeing the ivy on the outfield wall. It was not really green at this time of the year but as the temperature warms, the ivy will turn the green color. The ivy was first planted in 1937. The variety planted was Boston Ivy which is the same ivy associated with the Ivy League schools. When the Boston Ivy was first planted, the workers mixed in some Japanese Bittersweet vine among the Boston Ivy.

Our tour continued into the Visitor’s clubhouse which is actually located on a second floor area as the original designers of Wrigley were worried about the water level of Lake Michigan and did not want to place the locker rooms below field level as most ball parks do.

Wrigley Field used to host only day games before the lights were added. The term “bleacher bums” originated from the same group of men who would attend the day games and sit in the bleacher area. They must not have had day jobs so they were considered bums.

Katie explained that professional football was played on Wrigley Field for decades. The football field did not fit very well when laid out on the baseball field. One end of the football field was right up against a wall so it was decided that whichever team was on offense, they would have to move in the direction away from that walled end of the field for safety reasons. Games took a long time as the team receiving the ball had to be repositioned before doing their first offensive play.

After visiting the press box and sitting in the brand new chairs mentioned by Katie, we then went down to the field.

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Right to the left of this press box is where Harry Caray had his broadcast booth and where he would lead the 7th inning stretch singing of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” song. A couple of broadcast booths further on and we saw the organ which has been used at Wrigley since 1941. The current organist, Gary Pressy, has played the organ at 2400 home games during the past 30 years. He has not missed a single game.

Next we went onto the field and could sit in the visitors dugout. It was still raining pretty steadily and a bunch of the tour goers took shelter in the dugout.

It was a fun tour and I stopped in the nearby Cubs Store to look at some merchandise and to take my photo in front of a green screen which is located on the second floor of the store. One photo depicts me standing in front of the ivy and another has my face appearing through an opening in the manual scoreboard in center field.

 

I took the bus back to the hotel. I want to say that using the buses and trains of the CTA was a pleasure and I noticed that efforts were made to accommodate all kinds of different riders. The drivers were friendly and helpful. There were bike racks on the front of the buses. There was a braille sign next to certain seats for blind riders. The buses could “kneel” to assist elderly persons getting on or off the bus. The kneeling feature even helped a woman who was pushing her child in a stroller. She did not have to lift it up into the bus. I offered to help her. She said no thanks and then I saw the bus kneel down.

After returning to the hotel, I took a nap and then had a steak dinner at a nearby restaurant. The weather was noticeably getting worse.

Day Three

Had a sandwich and juice at Starbucks before I took the bus south on Clark Street to where there is a two story McDonalds restaurant at the intersection of Clark and West Ohio Street. I got off the bus here as this was the rendesvous location for persons who had reservations for “The Untouchables Tour”. This is one of the available tours in Chicago during which guides provide information and a tour which visits gangster historical sites. The usual bus was in for repair so we had a substitute coach bus for our wheels. Our mobster guide was Baby Face Bambino. He had a good sense of humor.

 

Baby Face gave us some history of the Chicago Mob. We went past the Holy Name Cathedral where Dean O’Banion, the head of the Irish Mob which controlled the North side of Chicago, was gunned down on 11/10/1924. Baby Face pointed out a .45 caliber bullet hole which was very noticeable on the lower right front of the church. O’Banion’s murder was ordered by the Johnny Torio-Al Capone led Italian Mob. According to our guide,  newlyweds have their picture taken by the bullet hole. There were other bullet holes in the front wall of the church after the murder but the church built steps to conceal those other bullet holes. The one remaining bullet hole was too high up on the wall to conceal. Banion had owned the Schofield’s Flower Shop across the street from the church at the time of his murder. The flower shop once stood where there is now a large parking lot.

While driving to various historic sites, Baby Face conducted a prize raffle where each passenger was given a playing card which was then ripped in half. One half was put in a bag and the other half was kept by the passenger. Baby Face picked out three winning card halves and those winners received, in order, a shot glass, a coffee mug and an Untouchables hardback book. My nine of spades was not a winner.

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The tour included seeing various sites such as the entrance pillars for the 1923 World’s Fair which was hosted by Chicago. We also saw the Stevens Hotel where Al Capone paid Fats Waller $10,000 in cash to play for Capone and his guests at a party over a weekend. We also saw where the current Lex Condos stand on the location where the original Lexington Hotel once stood. This was Al Capone’s main headquarters. It is also the location, before the Mayor of Chicago tore down the old Lexington Hotel, where Geraldo Rivera filmed his infamous show breaking into Al Capone’s secret vault. We saw the area next to the P.C. Schoenhofen Brewing Building where part of the Blues Brothers movie was filmed.

We continued on to see the Biograph Theatre and the alley where John Dillinger was killed on 7/22/1934. Dillinger died right where the round manhole cover is located at the beginning of the alley in the photo on the right.

We rode past the location where the garage which was the site of the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre which occurred on 2/14/1929. This crime resulted in seven persons being killed. Six of them were part of the Irish mob.

The tour returned us to our starting point. I got a sandwich at McDonalds and took the bus back to the hotel for a nap before going to Wrigley Field for my first baseball game.

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All fans get a certificate on their first visit to Wrigley Field. I think this is the only place who does this. The rain and wind was really coming down at 5:15pm when I arrived at the park for the 7:05pm game. The temperature continued to plummet, the rain got heavier and the winds blew stronger.

 

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There was a weather advisory posted on the Budweiser Scoreboard to let us know the game has been delayed for an unknown amount of time. I went to the bathroom and noticed a funny dispenser at the wash sinks. It was a sun tan lotion dispenser. No need for that tonight.

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The game finally started at 8:30pm with neither team getting fielding or batting practice on the field. As luck would have it for Phils fans, the Phillies scored seven runs in the first 1 and 1/3 innings before the Cubs starting pitcher was pulled from the mound. The Phils ended up winning 10-2. Three different Phillies hit home runs. But boy was it cold. It was after 11pm and I left in the 7th inning. Despite having a few layers on, I was still shivering. Most of the Chicago fans around me had already left a couple of innings before. As soon as I got back to the hotel, I turned the heat on and defrosted. My body was not prepared for this since I had attended Spring Training games in March when the temperature was in the high 70s and low 80s. The wind chill put the temperature at freezing or even lower tonight. I had packed very light for this Chicago trip and only had a small bag with a few clothing items.

Day Four

Had my same breakfast at the nearby Starbucks and then took two different buses to get to the Polk Brothers Park located at the Navy Pier. This is where I was to catch the Shoreline Sightseeing boat for an architectural tour of the various buildings and bridges on each side of the North, South and Main branches of the Chicago River. Erica was our Captain and Rachel was our tour guide.

 

I would highly recommend this tour and chose this one after it was recommended to me by my friend Maggie and her wife Andrea. The tour guide kept up a continued narration of so much information, I wish I could have done it a second time but in warmer weather. As the photo above shows, we were outside and exposed to the elements again. I started shivering again and I had not even made it to the Phillies night game yet!

After the tour I took a short walk inside the Navy Pier where I purchased a black knitted winter cap. I knew I would need this later tonight. I walked around through the glass enclosed Crystal Gardens which had beautiful green plants and water fountains.

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I also had lunch at the Harry Caray Tavern where I enjoyed my first mac and cheese grilled cheese sandwich. The name of the sandwich was Jumpin” Jack Flash Grilled Cheese. It was delicious comfort food on this cold day.

I took the bus back to the same McDonalds from the prior day as I wanted to check out some hand prints in the masonry on the outside of a Sports Authority Store near the McDonalds. When I got up close, a local told me the Sports Authority Store had closed.

Along the outside walls were the handprints of many famous Chicago area athletes. Here are a couple of the football players I liked- Quarterback Jim McMahon and Middle Linebacker Mike Singeltary.

Michael Jordan’s handprints had been moved to the inside of the store so I took a photo of the removed plaque.

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I took the bus back to the hotel and took a nap. My plan for the upcoming Phils game was to have many layers of clothing, the knit hat on my head and, as I had not brought any gloves, I used a pair of acrylic hiking socks as gloves for my hands.

I arrived at Wrigley Field closer to game time and noticed that many Chicago fans were carrying quilts and blankets through the security checkpoint. This was a bad omen. I enjoyed my Vienna Bratwurst sandwich and french fries. The same meal as the prior night. The warmth felt great in my core. Although it did not rain, the temperature seemed colder. I was shivering again around the third inning and I hung on until the top of the 8th inning before catching the bus back to the hotel. The Cubs hitting picked up in this second game and the Cubs won 8-3. But I still outlasted a bunch of the Chicago fans who had left earlier. It was very, very cold. I could only imagine what it must feel like to sit at Soldiers Field for a Bears game in December. OMG.

After returning to the hotel, I verified with the front desk clerk that I would receive a 4am wake up call so I could make sure I left in time to catch the 7am flight out of O’Hare the next day.

Day Five

Did not get a wake up call from the hotel but my internal alarm awakened me just before 4am. I dressed, packed, checked out of the hotel and went outside to catch a taxi to the Logan Square Train Station. Two shady dudes were hanging out on the sidewalk. When a cab did not pass after a couple of minutes, the one guy said that “If I gave him some cash, he would have a Uber come here to pick me up.” Yeah, right. Just then, the overnight desk clerk came out of the hotel, and helped me flag down a taxi. I took the cab to the train station, used my seven day pass for one last ride to O’Hare and then gave the pass to a local Chicagoan who could use it for the next three days. The woman thanked me for the CTA pass. The flights home were uneventful and it was great to see Bernadette again.

Although there are many other fun things I could do in Chicago and I had a wonderful time on this trip, I don’t have to return. I have checked this off my bucket list.

Suspension Bridge, Lots of Boardwalk and Marshy Mud Madness

On Sunday April 9, 2017 my son Mike and I hiked New Jersey AT Section #2 which is a 10.8 mile section between the Rt. 284 road crossing south of Circleville, New York just across the New Jersey border and ending at the Rt. 94 road crossing in Vernon, New Jersey. We dropped Mike’s car at the Rt. 94 parking area and drove my car to the Rt. 284 road crossing so we could start our hike northbound. The weather was wonderful and the sky was bright blue.

After a little more than a half hour and a bit of road walking, part of which had us leave New Jersey for New York State, we reentered New Jersey along State Line Road and turned right into the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. We walked along a lush, green grass path which surrounds the perimeter of the refuge.

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After making our first left hand turn, we noticed a bench which was an Eagle Scout project of Brendan Ronzoni of Troop 62 in Goshen, NY. What a beautiful view is available from the bench. Thanks Brendan.

We noticed a water depth reference wooden post in the marsh. The two numbers we could see above the water level were 386 and 387. There were small incremental marks between these numbers but we were not sure what the unit of measurement was for the post. I spoke to Ken Witkowski of the National Wildlife Service and he confirmed what Mike and I suspected that the numbers measured feet above sea level. The incremental marks between showed the decimal marks, not inches. I asked why the post was only a couple of feet higher than the water level and Ken explained that if the water got above the top of the post, noone would be able to come in and check it as everywhere would be flooded.

After making another 90 degree left hand turn still on the green grass path, we saw a blind for bird watching. I went inside and noticed there were handles on the inside of some of the small planks making up the exterior of the blind. I presume it is so bird watchers could arrange the sections of slats in the best way for their camera or binoculars or for the height of the naturalist doing the observation.

We left the blind and after a small distance the AT turns right through some woods. The grass path continued straight ahead. The soft grass path was a pleasure for my feet.

After crossing Liberty Corners Road, we began the climb up Pochuck Mountain. The first part of the climb ascends almost 500 feet in a half a mile so it is pretty steep. There is a post along the trail marking a short side trail leading to an abandoned house which has an outdoor water spigot. This could serve as a water source for those continuing northbound to the Pochuck Shelter which appears another 4/10 mile up the mountain. I did not try the outside spigot but I saw it on the rear of the building. We walked back to the AT and continued north towards the shelter.

The Pochuck Shelter is well marked by a sign and another sign indicates the mileages to the nearest shelters both north and south of Pochuck Shelter. We had hiked about 4.2 miles in one hour and forty two minutes when we arrived at the shelter seen below.

We were fortunate to find two hikers already there. Toothless,(his trail name) a 2016 SOBO thru hiker, was hiking with his brother Willis for a few days. They were nice enough to let me take their picture. Toothless is on the left in the photo below.

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We talked a while about Toothless’ thru hike last year. He started in early July at Mt. Katahdin in Maine and finished atop Springer Mountain in Georgia in early December. He had to battle some winter snow conditions in the later part of his thru hike. We wished them well as they were heading southbound.

I read the trail register and noticed that Troop 334 of the Northern New Jersey Council of the Boy Scouts had passed through a little before we did. After signing the register, I put it inside the shelter on the back shelf along with the pen.

This shelter had a nearby privy and a bear box. I noticed a round mirror fastened to the front wall to the right of the opening. I did not recall seeing a mirror on a shelter before during our other section hikes in New York but Mike recalled seeing them before. I took this photo of the mirror with me taking the photo. Notice the words printed around the edge of the mirror.

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To the left side of the shelter opening is a memorial plaque recognizing this shelter to be in the memory of Jim Quinlan 1953-2015 who had built the shelter. I was touched by this inscription. Mr. Quinlan must have been a wonderful man.

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After a fifteen minute break at the shelter, we continued our northbound journey. We kept walking on what appeared to be a well worn hiking path. On our left we noticed the remains of an old Chevrolet pickup truck, some old refrigerators and other miscellaneous junk. I have no idea how it got there. There were no real roads nearby. Did someone drive the truck with the junk in the rear bed for its final drive of its life?  Paying homage to David “AWOL” Miller and his Treasure Hunt game in his AT guide book, Mike said we could start our own AT trivia contest. This question would be “What is the manufacturer’s name of the pick up truck on the side of Pochuck Mountain?” As we walked a little further past the truck, we realized that we were not seeing any white blazes. We had obviously gone off the AT trail as we followed this well worn path presuming it was the AT. We retraced our steps backward and met up with a person walking his dog. They (well, not the dog really) got us pointed back to where we had missed a sharp right turn of the AT. After finding it, we continued climbing up to the top of Pochuck Mountain, 1147 feet above sea level, and enjoyed at least one scenic view down to the wildlife refuge where we had been earlier this morning. I guess my trivia contest would have to be solved by persons who sometimes veered off the AT.

We hiked some ups and downs a little and then began a gradual descent toward the Rt. 565 road crossing. Just before reaching the road we crossed a small bridge over a stream which is mentioned as a possible water source for southbound hikers planning on staying at the Pochuck Shelter which has no water source at it.

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Mike noticed the words “One Step At A Time” were spray painted on the steps leading up to the bridge.  We did not see any plaques or signs indicating who did the work.

We hiked another mile and a half which featured a little up and down before a steep descent down to the Rt. 517 road crossing. This is a major parking/access area for persons wanting to enjoy the raised boardwalks and puncheon which was erected to protect the Pochuck Swamp. There were even a couple of porta-toilets along the road next to the trailhead. This is the sign at that trailhead.

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We only had about 2.4 miles to go from this point. Most of this part of the AT is along raised boardwalks similar to the one pictured above. Volunteers must have spent a long time doing all of this work to construct these sections of boardwalk. Some sections are thousands of feet long. Occasionally in drier areas we walked on the ground and then would be back onto boardwalk in the marshier areas. There were a few places with no boardwalk and no puncheon planks where the standing water and mud was three or four inches deep. We walked as carefully as possible through these areas.  I used one of my trekking poles as a third leg. It was easier to pull the pole out of the mud than it was to pull my hiking boot out of the muck. I tried to follow the guidance of Mike who was the lead scout on this expedition. We passed a couple of young women who were trying to figure out how to get past these marshy areas without getting any mud or water on their sneakers. Good luck with that. We later saw a couple of girls who had removed their socks and sneaks before wading barefoot through the muck.

Less than a mile after starting onto the boardwalk, we came to the Pochuck Creek Suspension Bridge. A sign over the bridge warns that there is a twenty person maximum on the bridge.

My AT Trail Guide (17th Edition, 2011) provides this bit of background info:

“The 146 foot long bridge was completed in 1996 for a cost of  $30,000 not including thousands of volunteer hours. The foundation essentially floats and the walkway is fourteen feet high. This height was chosen as it is five feet above the 100-year flood level and should permit the bridge to withstand floods that send logs and debris down the creek.”

After leaving the bridge, we continued past various streams and more boardwalks on our way to climb over stiles at the railroad crossing for the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway which hauls freight between North Bergen, New Jersey and Syracuse, New York (according to the same AT guide).

We covered the last quarter mile of puncheon across a field and we could see Rt. 94 ahead. After climbing over one more stile, we had reached the northern end of New Jersey Section #2 at 1:10pm. Thanks Mike for another great section hike.

I have now hiked 109.7 miles of the AT (89.8 miles in NY and 19.9 in NJ).

Phillie Phanatic, Pirate Mauling and the Frozen T-Shirt Contest at Spring Training in Clearwater, Florida

One of the adventures on my bucket list has been to attend MLB Spring Training in Clearwater, Florida which is the home of the Phillies who play at Spectrum Field (formerly Bright House Field). Check that one off the list after Bernadette and I spent eight days in the mid to high 70s Florida sun. Here are the highlights.

Day One

After flying Allegiant Airlines out of Stewart International, we arrived at the Clearwater/St. Pete Airport (PIE). Enterprise was out of the compact car I reserved so they upgraded me to a higher vehicle at no cost. Sweet. The customer rep also listed the gas tank as empty even though it was full so I wouldn’t have to fill the tank upon returning the car. Even better. He was very accommodating and said he gave us the full tank “for our trouble at not getting the car we reserved.” Bernadette was very supportive of this trip from the start and she used a combination of Marriott rewards points and two free night rewards so our lodging bill for eight days/ seven nights was zero dollars. We were in the zone already. After we checked in, the Marriott night desk person offered us a free breakfast on Marriott the next morning.

Day Two

After getting Bernadette lunch, I headed for a twenty minute ride to Spectrum Field. It is a beautiful complex. Parking cost $10 in the dirt and stone parking lot which was a short walk to the stadium.

I took these photos outside the stadium at the main entrance. Clearwater was designated by Sports Illustrated as one of the 50th Anniversary Sportstowns in the USA.

I walked around and saw the two grassy embankments for fans in left center and in right center. A lady with two kids took my photo by the Phillie Phanatic and Clearwater Thresher signs. The Thresher shark is the mascot for the minor league team who also uses this field. Further around the outfield, there were three lifeguard stands and some spectators had already claimed these seats. They had swiveling arm tables so you could set your food down while eating it.

There was a sign showing the names of all the cities where Phillies minor league teams are located and the mileage to those cities.

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I made my way around to my seat in the small second level along the first base side. As I went upstairs, the attendant reminded me to have one of the free cocktails being offered. The free drink was a champagne and orange juice mixture called a Mimosa.

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I settled down to watch my first game which was against the Minnesota Twins. I sat next to a couple who lived in Delaware County just outside of Philadelphia. The Phils narrowly lost to the Twins when the Phils made the final out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.

I tried to get out of the parking area as fast as possible but the traffic was horrendous. Bernadette and I were scheduled,  to meet my cousin Paul for dinner at a Texas Roadhouse located about one hour above Tampa. Fortunately, Bernadette was ready to go as soon as I got back to the hotel and we had a fun night visiting with my cousin who drove around three hours south to meet us for dinner. I had never been in one of these restaurants which were very lively with happy patrons. And there were a lot of peanut shells on the floors as each table is given a couple of pails of peanuts for snacking. Thank you Paul for fitting us in before your on call duty started at the Mayo Clinic.

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Day Three

In the morning I went for a walk  and into the Scientology Headquarters Building for the Sea Organization in Clearwater. I got a brochure from the receptionist who informed me that there is an Open House every day from 10am-10pm in the Scientology Information Center which was located nearby off Cleveland Street. On an opposite corner of the Scientology Building has the words The Flag. This is the building where Scientologists have to sign the billion year service contract. That’s right, billion. This is one of the buildings that was shown and discussed on the cable channel show by Leah Remini. You could see the distinctive building from our hotel room window which faced west. The Scientology group has 22 other buildings in the Clearwater area. It was interesting seeing these billion year servants in their distinctive uniforms being picked up and shuttled around.

After picking up lunch, I headed back to Spectrum Field. Next up were the Atlanta Braves. The stadium provided the same free cocktail but I opted for a beer and a bag of cracker jacks.

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The Phils came back after falling behind early. It always feels good beating the Braves. It is like the Eagles beating the Cowboys. Same feeling. It was great sitting in very good seats again for tickets in the $34 range.

I found an easier way to exit the parking area on this day and got back to the hotel faster by using a short cut I learned. We went to a restaurant named the Cork and Brew Bistro on Mandalay Avenue in Clearwater Beach. After dinner we walked onto the beach to see the sun setting. It was very peaceful.

Day Four

After bumping into a young couple and their son from a Philadelphia suburb at breakfast at our hotel, I took their suggestion and watched some players practicing at the four practice fields named in honor of famous Phillies- Steve Carlton, Richie Ashburn, Mike Schmidt and Robin Roberts. The roster players and the non-roster invitees are very approachable and you can stand right next to the fence where they are. Easy to get autographs or photos. This practice occurs 9:30am-11:30am before the regular game starts at 1:05pm at the nearby Spectrum Field.

This was alumni day at Spectrum Field and a bunch of former Phillies were at different tables to sign autographs. I took this picture of a table with Ben Rivera, John Kruk and Mickey Morandini (left to right). Morandini is the first base coach for the Phils this season. The announcer introduced many other former Phils before the game. I got to see former Phils manager Charlie Manuel who is apparently a volunteer coach during Spring Training. He even had a reserved parking space at the practice field area when I visited.

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This third Phils game was against the Detroit Tigers. The Phils were down 3-0 before even getting to bat in the 1st inning. But again, the fightin’ Phils came back and won this game 8-4.

The Phanatic was tremendous all three days. He did so many of his routines and interacted with fans, the players and the umpiring crew. My favorites include his high speed rides on his ATV around the field. He gave rides to two young spectators before two of the games. He mocked the Twins player so much during their pre-game stretching routine that one of the Twins players grabbed the keys from the ATV and threw them across the pitcher’s mound. The Phanatic impersonated the walking of the umps and various people on the field.

During one break between innings, the Phanatic operated the pneumatic T-shirt launcher. Some of his launched shirts went up onto the roof over our section.

Another time the Phanatic gave a kiss to a lady fan and stole her pocket book. He put the pocket book in the lap of another fan further down the same row and pointed a finger at the “guilty” party.

While I was having all the fun attending the games, Bernadette was enjoying the hotel pool and reading books on her Kindle.

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This night we ate at the Island Way Grill which was located just off the causeway before heading into Clearwater Beach. We had the early bird special and sat outside to enjoy the view of a nearby marina.

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I still am not very good at taking the selfies.

Day Five

Since the Phils were off the today, I was lucky to be able to attend a Yankees vs. Pirates game in Bradenton with my fellow retired FBI agent and friend Hector. Hector got tickets for the game at McKechnie Field and it is the only time I have ever sat in the first row behind the first baseman, at a major league park. Thanks Hector! Great seats. Since there is so much less protection for spectators seated that close to the field, you have to be on alert for foul balls and wild throws from the pitcher. We had at least one of each come bouncing against the short wall in front of us.

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I wore my Phils hat and a nearby Pirates fan said that this section was only for Pirates fans. I told him I was supporting our other Pennsylvania baseball team in the game against the Yankees. The Pirates won 13-1. If it had been a little league game, it would have been stopped due to the mercy rule.

The Pirates mascot is a costumed parrot named Captain Jolly Roger. He was introduced as the official mascot in 1979 which is the year after the Phanatic began for the Phillies. No mascot compares favorably to the Phanatic.

Hector treated me to dinner after the game so I will reciprocate during my next trip down for Spring Training.

Day Six

My original plan was to take one day off after four straight games and then to see a Blue Jays game in nearby Dunedin. Their park, Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, is actually closer to the Residence Inn where we stayed, than the Phils’ park. However, I misread a schedule for the Toronto Blue Jays and realized that their home game against Team Canada was one day sooner. Five games in five days it would  have to be. Oh the struggles we retirees face. I figured I would never get another chance to see Team Canada in person. But when I went online to buy a ticket I got a message saying there were no tickets available. I called the ticket office and they said tickets were available but only in person at the field’s ticket office. I made the very easy six minute ride to the field and got a seat three rows behind home plate for $27. Wow.

I went back to the hotel for a while and then returned to the Blue Jays field but I took the advice of an attendant who recommended I park at the VFW Hall located across the street as they only charged $15 for parking instead of $20. The attendant also said the VFW serves food inside their hall and the food is much less expensive than the prices charged at the ball park.

 

Thanks to the volunteers at VFW Post 2550 in Dunedin, Florida. I put a quarter for scale reference next to my jumbo hot dog which only cost $3. The same jumbo hot dog in the Blue Jays ball park was $6.75.

The Blue Jays field can only handle about 5500 fans so it is smaller than other parks I know. I had a great seat right behind home plate. The sun was out in full force on this day and I had no shade protection so I wore my floppy hat. That is Team Canada practicing in the background of this photo.

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This stadium needs some upgrading for fan comfort. The bottom part of the seats do not fold up. This makes it very hard when people need to move down the row. The rows are very close together and I had to stretch each inning as my legs were so cramped. Take a look at the photo below. Do you see something missing?

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Bingo. No cup holders. When I purchased a diet coke, I got a bottle so I could have a cap on it. One server said they did not provide straws as the birds try to get the wrappers.

The game was fun to watch as Team Canada won 7-1. I even sat near a couple from Toronto- Ron and Sandy. They were staying at the same hotel. There were some other nearby fans who were from Quebec. They spoke French and English off and on during the game. They spent a huge amount of money on beer and other food items. They had seven beers before the third inning and were just getting warmed up. They purchased another five beers around the fifth inning. They mentioned their plans to take their kids to Disney World next week. The kids were apparently sitting a few rows back but not with the couple. They were funny and shared funny stories with another fan from Quebec who was sitting to my right.

As much as I think this stadium needed a makeover badly, I will say they had some good fan contests between innings. My favorite was the Frozen T-Shirt contest. The stadium emcee stands on the home team dugout roof with two contestants. At the start of the contest, the contestants reach into coolers to remove a rolled up frozen T-shirt. The fans then  proceed to smash the frozen shirt repeatedly on a nearby railing in efforts to soften the shirt enough so they can put the shirt on. The winner was the person who got the shirt on first. It was the first time I ever saw this type of contest. Very funny.

I headed back to the hotel having seen eight different teams play in five games at three different fields during the past five days. Time for a break. I enjoyed a great dinner with Bernadette.

Day Seven

As I was running some errands during the day, I noticed many, many college age students at convenient stores and elsewhere as they were heading west toward Clearwater Beach for Spring Break. I pictured this beach area being featured on an episode of COPS.

Bernadette and I had a relaxing day and then another early bird special at the Island Way Grill again.

 

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Day Eight

We continued reading more books on our mutual Kindles before checking out of the Residence Inn.  Bernadette reached her goal of eight books in eight days. Incredible. We then headed to Enterprise for the rental car return. Returning the car was so easy that I will use Enterprise again if we come back next Spring Training. What a pleasure. No problems on the Allegiant Air flight back to Stewart International where our son Mike picked us up. Thanks Mike.And thank you Bernadette.